'We have never had this large a number of homeless families'

Mike Allen of Focus Ireland

Allison Bray

The number of families using the services of homeless charities this Christmas is unprecedented.

The problem has shifted somewhat from the lack of emergency beds for rough sleepers to the lack of homes for a growing number of ordinary families, according to Mike Allen, Director of Advocacy for Focus Ireland.

He said a lot has changed since the discovery of the body of homeless man Jonathan Corrie, found in a doorway on Molesworth Street, just metres from the Dail on December 1, 2014.

"Yet the situation remains the same," Mr Allen said.

While more than 500 emergency beds for single rough sleepers have come on stream since Mr Corrie's death, "the underlying causes of homelessness have become significantly worse," he said.

According to the most recent figures from the Department of Housing, 1,178 families - including 2,470 children - were being housed in emergency accommodation at hotels and B&Bs in October, which he said is "totally unprecedented".


"We never had this large a number of homeless families," Mr Allen said.

Yet that figure doesn't reflect the unknown number of families who are also homeless but are "couch-surfing" with friends and relatives. Mr Allen worries more families will become homeless - especially those who came from abroad and found themselves without a job or accommodation due to the escalating rent crisis.

The scale of the homeless problem - which has a domino effect on demand for other services such as provision of food and clothing - was evident in the sheer number of families attending Focus Ireland's annual Christmas dinner yesterday.

"There were 300 families at Croke Park for dinner," he said. "But a large number of families will just spend Christmas in a hotel room."

Niamh Randall, spokeswoman for the Dublin Simon Community, said the charity is seeing the same volume of families in need.

She is urging Housing Minister Simon Coveney to bring in tax and other incentives to free up vacant houses and properties to provide long-term solutions instead of just emergency beds.